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Wide-screen TV is on the way

technofile  by al fasoldt

Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology

Simple gray rule

Wide-screen TV is on the way 

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1991, The Syracuse Newspapers

High-definition television will step a little closer to your home this fall or winter with the introduction of a new kind of TV set.

The new TV design won't be a true HDTV, but it will have one of HDTV's biggest advantages—a super-wide screen.

At least three major Japanese companies are ready to introduce these super-wide sets in North America. And the French company that owns RCA's TV business is likely to sell similar sets here, too.

JVC, Sharp and Hitachi showed their versions of semi-HDTV sets at the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Chicago this summer. Thomson of France gave a preview of its model last year. All the sets have one impressive advantage over current TVs—they have wide screens, just like the projection screens in movie theaters.

As you can imagine, this seems like a classic case of putting the cart—in this case, the TV hardware—before the horse, since TV signals themselves won't be any different. In other words, even if you buy a wide-screen TV, you won't have any wide-screen video to show on it.

But regular TV images can be shown in a sort of pseudo-wide mode by cutting off the top and bottom of the picture. And in those rare cases in which cable networks themselves cut off the blank areas at the top and bottom of the image when they show unretouched premium movies—a technique known as letterboxing—owners of the new sets will be able to see the entire image without the squeezed effect the rest of us would see.

However, before you head off for your local mom-and-pop appliance store to order one of these goodies, be forewarned that they are probably going to cost $4,000 or more. And only a few superstores are likely to carry them.

It's also possible that all four companies may hold off the introduction of the new models to see which way the rest of the industry is heading. So far, Sony, the technology leader in both audio and video, has kept silent about its plans.

All the new sets use a width-to-height ratio of 16 to 9, meaning that a screen that is, for example, 32 inches wide would be 18 inches high. This is the same dimensional size—also called aspect ratio—that has been standard in movie theaters for years.

Regular TV sets have aspect ratios of 4 to 3. With typical variations in quality control, this leaves many current TVs with an almost square picture. In order to show movies on television, producers normally use a cut-and-scan technique to try to keep the main action on-screen.

Some movies are even put through a width-squeezing lens to place more of the action on the screen. (That's why some of the movie stars you see in feature films seem to have lost a little weight lately. If only life could imitate art in such an easy way!)

The new wide-screen sets are also likely to show a clearer picture, using built-in circuitry that corrects flaws in the image. Some may also have such picture enhancers as scan-line doublers, which fill in an extra scanning line between the existing ones (those lines of dots that make up the TV picture). This gives the impression of better resolution when it is done right.

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